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Thailand to ban cannabis; permits only for medical purposes

The relaxed laws saw a lucrative cannabis industry catering to locals and foreigners alike boom across the Southeast Asian nation, according to CNN

Thailand to ban cannabis; permits only for medical purposes

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BANGKOK: Thailand’s new government is pushing to ban cannabis for recreational use; however, it has allowed the use of weed for medical purposes.

They have moved to pass new legislation banning cannabis for recreational use in a major reversal 18 months after the country became the first in Asia to decriminalize the plant, as reported by CNN. The newly appointed coalition government that came to power last year aimed to tighten the rules and only allow cannabis for medical use.

The relaxed laws saw a lucrative cannabis industry catering to locals and foreigners alike boom across the Southeast Asian nation, according to CNN. Thailand’s health ministry released a draft bill on Tuesday, stating hefty fines or prison sentences for up to one year for offenders, or both. It further welcomed feedback from the public.

Cannabis and cannabis-related products will be limited to medical and health purposes only, the bill states, echoing Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin’s pledge in September that his new government will “rectify” laws on cannabis within the next six months.

Even with the relaxed laws, smoking Marijuana in public was illegal, but the proposed new laws will ban advertising and marketing campaigns for cannabis bus extracts, and other cannabis products, as reported by CNN. However, earlier, a draft bill failed to win parliamentary approval in November.

Thavisin has been vocal about banning recreational cannabis and stated in several media interviews that drug abuse is “a big problem for Thailand.”

Notably, Thailand became the first country in Asia to fully decriminalise cannabis in June 2022, a move years in the making and a rarity in a region where many countries give long jail terms and even death sentences for people convicted of marijuana possession, consumption or trafficking, according to CNN.

In Hong Kong, even non-psychoactive cannabidiol (CBD) is outlawed.

Moreover, Singapore maintained the death penalty for trafficking drugs, and residents travelling to Thailand are warned they could still be prosecuted on return if they smoke weed overseas.

Medical marijuana has been legal in Thailand since 2018, but decriminalisation in 2022 took a major turn, making it no longer a crime to grow and trade marijuana and hemp products or to use any parts of the plant to treat illnesses.

Since then, thousands of cannabis dispensaries have sprung up across Thailand, as well as other cannabis-themed businesses like weed cafes, hemp spas and beauty treatments, CNN reported.

However, cities like Chiang Mai and the capital, Bangkok have even held weed festivals, and decriminalisation has set a major drawback for tourists.

But Anutin Charnvirakul, the former health minister who strongly lobbied for cannabis legalisation in the country, previously told CNN that the intention was never to allow Thais and tourists to smoke weed recreationally in public.

“Thailand will promote cannabis policies for medical purposes. There has never once been a moment that we would think about advocating for people to use cannabis in terms of recreation–or use it in a way that it could irritate others,” Anutin said.

“We emphasised using cannabis extractions and raw materials for medical purposes and for health,” he added.

Moreover, pro-legislation advocates have argued that the cannabis boom across Thailand has helped many Thais, from farmers to small business owners and workers behind the counter, as reported by CNN. Earlier, cannabis entrepreneurs emphasised that they were strongly against any legalisation that would hurt the growing multi-billion-dollar industry.

The Future Cannabis Network, an advocacy group in Thailand, expressed disappointment at the government’s actions and stressed the importance of “public involvement.” Kitty Chopaka, a Bangkok-based cannabis entrepreneur who has pushed for cannabis legalisation for years, called it a “knee-jerk reaction” from the government and said that it was “not unexpected.”

“But no matter what happens with the incoming cannabis regulations, it is now too late for cannabis to go back to being classified as narcotics,” she added.

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